Friday, March 5, 2010

Upper Karnali Uproar!

Ratna Sansar Shrestha

UCPNM’s opposition to Upper Karnali project is creating uproar as it is beyond the comprehension of some people in Nepal (attracting condemnation for venturing to do so). Actually it deserves to be “commended” for being able to see through the façade of the project, belatedly though, and establish that this project isn’t in Nepal’s national interest (it’s definitely in Indian national interest, though). The likes of this scribe have been pointing out the deficiencies in the way this project is structured and packaged since January 2008. A case filed in the Supreme Court is still pending.

Lose/Lose Proposition
This project is a lose/lose proposition. The project site is a rare gift of nature and implementation of the project with installed capacity of 300 MW is mutually exclusive of storage project of 4,180 MW, the optimum capacity from the perspective of Nepal’s national interest. From 300 MW Nepal will earn Rs 358 million annually as royalties, while from 4,180 MW Nepal could have earned Rs 4.84 billion; a difference of 1344%!

Under the MoU signed with the proponent, Nepal stands to receive 12% free energy, valued at Rs 458 million, if priced at Rs 2/kWh while the same from 4180 MW will amount to Rs 4 billion. Exploited at its full potential, as a storage project, it will generate augmented/regulated flow of about 500 m3/s, capable to irrigate 1.5 million hectares of land during the dry season in the lower riparian area. Excepting for some ground water irrigation projects, the area is devoid of dry season irrigation facility. Far western and mid western development regions, possessing good agricultural land, are food shortage area. With irrigation facility during dry season, by implementing this project as a storage project, the area can be easily metamorphosed. Additionally, with ample electricity becoming available at low cost, the two development regions have the potential to become economic power houses of the nation. In order to understand the magnitude of the value of this quantum of water, a parallel needs to be drawn with arrangement between Lesotho and South Africa. If Nepal is to make the water available to India (instead of using it for irrigation purposes in Nepal), Nepal stands to earn Rs 52 billion annually.

As such Nepal stands to lose Rs 60 billion each year if it is implemented at lower capacity. The magnitude of this amount can be understood by comparing it with this year’s Nepal’s total domestic revenue of Rs 176 billion. Being prepared to forgo such an amount is tantamount to committing high treason against Nepal.

Energy CrisisSome have opined that non-implementation of this project will aggravate energy crisis in Nepal, wrongly. It is an export-oriented project and there is no relationship between its implementation and mitigation of energy crisis in Nepal. On the contrary, if it’s to be built at its optimum capacity, Nepal would not only be self reliant from the perspective of peak power but could also utilize it to industrialize and generate employment in Nepal such that those working in foreign countries will be afforded dignified employment in their own motherland, enabling them to avoid disintegration of their families.

While a project like this, that can sell electricity at the bulk rate of Rs 2 per kWh, is being dedicated as export oriented, Nepal is importing from India at Rs 10.72. Even the cheaper power exchange rate of Rs 7.81 is close to four times of this rate. Exporting at low rate and importing at high rate definitely reflects intellectual famine. Besides, such a policy perpetuates dependency. People also need to remember that India treats electricity as a “strategic” commodity; evidence of which can be found in the refusal of India, in last Baisakh, to export 30 MW power to Nepal which led to the collapse of Prachanda government.

Indian security force in NepalCA member Mr Radheshyam Adhikari, in an article published in vernacular weekly, with reference to UCPNM obstructing implementation of this project, in “Yo Sata” has opined that “India could force our authorities to concede in the area of security. They could ask their security personnel stationed in the said project to protect their citizens (sic) investment interest.” The clear implication is that it will be justified for India to demand as such and Nepal should be wiling to concede in view of UCPNM obstruction of the project. This merely amounts to using UCPNM as an excuse for the purpose. Because without any provision as such in, much condemned, Koshi and Gandak treaties, and with no UCPNM at that time to provide convenient excuse, Indian security force is stationed in the barrages of Koshi and Gandak projects.

Most people don’t know that Karnali Chisapani project, 10,800 MW, was shelved by the then royal government of Nepal as India, prematurely, let it out that the security of this project will be ensured by Indian security personnel. Jagat Mehta, former secretary of ministry of foreign affairs of India, in his book titled “India-Nepal Relations – Challenges Ahead,” has revealed it. Although the monarchy got eliminated from Nepal as it deserved, but at least from this perspective it must be commended. Similarly king Mahendra too deserves to be commended for succeeding to evict Indian military check posts and mission in June 1969.

In view of the above this project shouldn’t be implemented at less than its optimum capacity and neither should it be made export oriented, forcing India to be dependent on it as making her feel insecure. We should first aim to become self reliant and export energy, not power, in case we have surplus. This project should be developed as a multipurpose project to ensure that Nepal benefits from multidimensional use of water. However, it will be disingenuous for people to jump to conclusion that electricity should not be exported at all. It reflects poorly on intellectual capacity to export power while keeping more than 75% of the populace in the dark, industrial growth stunted due to energy crisis, having to export human resource of prime age group for lack of industrialization and employment generation with attendant problems of disintegration of families and rampage of diseases like HIV.

UCPNM needs to be applauded for succeeding to draw attention to the extant tunnel vision in Nepal’s hydropower policy in particular and water resource policy in general (or for lack of a coherent policy). Policy lacuna lies in the failure to optimize in the national interest (current plans to raise the capacity to 900 MW is equally detrimental to Nepal’s national interest) and unwillingness to allow Nepal to benefit from multidimensional use of water by developing it as a multipurpose project.

Published in Vol. 3, No 20 (March 5, 2010) of Spotlight Newsmagazine.

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